I’m almost finished the coursework portion of the Provincial Instructor Diploma Program. Once I am finished Professional Practice, I will have one class left, and then just the Capstone Project.
This is a very old photo.
I’m also about to have a birthday, which is my favourite opportunity to reflect and then look forward. New Year’s shmew years. This is my personal new year.
It’s been a heck of a year. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a year of better professional development, as I just started a new job that will allow me to apply and work on so many of the skills that I’ve learned in PIDP. I had a plan in January: I would be in a new position with instruction and curriculum development as the main focus by the end of the year (done by November!). I also planned to have finished the coursework by now, but that would have been insane. Plans need to be flexible.
I honestly thought that I wouldn’t learn that much from my courses. I’ve done lots of professional development courses and it usually feels like as long as you show up and sign in on the sheet, you get the certificate. Easy peasy.
Not so with this program. I have learned so much, and most importantly I have learned what I need to continue to focus on with my learning. I haven’t left with a list of “I can do this”, but more a list of “Here is what I will work on”. It’s perfect… will give me something to do over the next year!
I feel like I have been faced with the task of examining my commitment to lifelong learning a few times during my program now. I think the goal is to recognize the importance and value of continual professional development, even when it is hard or expensive or maybe even a bit of a blow to the ego.
But, I protest, I LOVE learning! I don’t need to go through this exercise! I’m super good at evaluating my strengths and weaknesses and identifying opportunities for growth! I never get stuck in a professional rut and fight against the idea that there may be a better way of doing things!
So maybe I need a plan. Once this program is over how will I implement the things that I have learned and how will I continue you to grow? I found this fun little article that suggests that teachers train like actors or athletes, breaking down what we do into practicable chunks – and then actually practice doing them!
Why Teachers Should be Trained Like Actors
I LIKE this idea. I can read and write about all sorts of strategies and techniques, but it’s the doing that freaks me out and that fear that prevents me from experimenting in the classroom. But if I had a ‘facilitators’ workshop’ to go to and try stuff out… hhmmmmm…..
Something cool happened a couple of days ago. I was setting up my workshop room to do a lesson on “Learning from Mistakes” (specifically, at work).
A reminder; I work with at risk youth, and the program that I work within teaches job search, job readiness, and job maintenance skills.
Anyway, the lesson that I was about to launch into had been created that morning, totally on the fly. I’d never done it before.
So as I was setting up the projector, I overheard the guys in my class chatting about a very recently released video game. And inspiration struck.
For nearly an hour we had a completely engaged and engaging full class discussion about making and learning from mistakes in video games, and how and why it differs from how we approach mistakes in real life. The one student that reads a book for the entire lesson (don’t worry about it, it’s cool), CLOSED HIS BOOK AND SLID IT TO THE SIDE OF THE TABLE. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how giddy that makes me.
One of Stephen Brookfield’s 16 Maxims of Skillful Teaching is “Don’t be afraid to take risks”. I took a chance on another lesson a couple of days later and it bombed. But I can learn from that and move forward, and I won’t forget the win. It was a big one.
Brookfield, S.D. (2015) The skillful teacher. (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
I was pretty excited to get into Chapter 6 of “The Skillful Teacher”, because it is an area that I could use some serious skill development; Lecturing Creatively.
I fall back on lecture all. the. time. Too much. And that approach isn’t often challenged in my place of work. I find that participants in my workshops come back weeks later and demonstrate to me that they didn’t learn much.
That being said, I don’t think abolishing lecture is the way to go, especially not right away. I might be able to create fully learner centred workshops over the next year or so, but as we work towards that lecture needs to stay – but needs to get better.
The general theme of much of the chapter is around ensuring that lecture is more than just two hours of one sided information transmission; keep it short, organized, and interspersed with discussion, guided question periods, and other more active learning methods.
The Eight Minute Lecture Keeps Students Engaged
The Skillful Teacher
Isn’t it funny how timely a lesson topic can be sometimes? This week I read chapters 16 and 17 in Brookfield’s “The Skillful Teacher”, Understanding and Responding to Students’ Resistance to Learning, respectively. He urges readers to consider times in our lives that we have been resistance to learning and the change that it brings, to reflect on the reasons for that resistance and how justified they were for our lives at that time. And holy guacamole, you wouldn’t believe how resistant I am feeling about something in my professional life right now.
A new initiative was being brought forward to my team for implementation. This was done at the tail end of a time period that was full of turmoil and change for us. As a team, we looked at the initiative, and came back to our management with concerns and questions around the implementation. We didn’t feel very confident in our ability to successfully launch the initiative while maintaining our (admittedly high) performance in other areas, so we wanted to start a dialogue around what implementation was really going to look like. This seems to have been interpreted as hard resistance to the idea, and a meeting was held. After the meeting our team felt as though, if we didn’t go whole hog on this initiative, our jobs were in jeopardy. We felt threatened. It was one of the most demotivating and demoralizing experiences of my professional life.
And now I feel… resistant. I had a conversation with a person in management where I shared my perception of the experience. I was told that the meeting that was held was never intended to feel like a threat, but the damage is done. My team needs to feel like our concerns are heard, considered, and directly addressed.
I’ve learned so much from this experience, and the way that it coincided with reading these two particular chapters in The Skillful Teacher; Brookfield argues that we need to listen and understand where resistance is coming from. We might assume it is from laziness or lack of caring, but often it is a result of a student’s experience of our teaching and our classroom. We need to hear concerns and take them to heart, and demonstrate to students that their voices matter in the building of a positive and productive learning environment.
So I’m making my way through “The Skillful Teacher”, by Stephen Brookfield, and this week I read chapter 9 (among others), Teaching about Racism. Oh dear.
Okay, here we go. I’m white. And I’ve long felt that my voice doesn’t have a place in the racism discussion because the white voice has been heard loudly and clearly for a very long time, and I think it’s time to shut up and listen.
Brookfield suggests that maybe that’s not such a great idea, and it’s just another way of perpetuating the idea that Whiteness is all powerful and a voice of colour could never be heard above a white voice.
My thoughts on this – yeah, that makes sense. One thing I’ve realized over the last year is that my silence is at least partly coming from fear; fear of looking racist, fear of saying something hurtful, fear of getting into an awkward conversation. But then I started, instead of just being silent, to ask questions instead. When I read about people of colour being randomly stopped and carded on the streets of Toronto, I asked a friend of mine if that had ever happened to him. Shocker, it had. Multiple times. I was enraged and embarrassed and disgusted and so very glad that I had asked.
“The danger is in speaking “to” rather than “with” our students…” from When the White Teacher Talks About Race.
I think for now that is the best I can do in the classroom; recognize that my perspective is a privileged one, and try to rid myself of the fear that presents me from having a genuine human interest in all my students’ stories. And talk with them about racism, never to them.
10 Ways Well Meaning White Teachers Bring Racism Into Our Schools
The Skillful Teacher
On Being Wrong:
We’ve been talking for the last week or so about learning from mistakes.
Maybe the first step is to, as Schulz says, “Step outside that tiny, terrified space of rightness and look around at each other.. and look out at the vastness and complexity and mystery of the universe and be able to say wow, i don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.”
I have a friend that is an elementary school teacher. Throughout my PIDP experience, I’ve been annoying him with all the new ideas, theories, and philosophies that I am learning about and embracing. The conversation usually goes “you should try this!” and then “that won’t work because of this constraint or this structure or this other reason”. And I assume he is just making excuses because he’s afraid to try something new.
Well, looks like I’m being a jerk again. Because low and behold – I do the same bloody thing.
I took the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI) this week, and boy oh boy did I learn some things. I want to nurture, I believe in nurturing, I am all about the nurturing perspective… but what do I do? My actions fall firmly in the land of transmission perspective. And why do I do that??
Number 1: because of what, where, and who I teach, the existing structure supposes a transmission style of teaching. I’m working on changing that, and I need to be patient because it will take time.
Number 2: I am new at this, and I’m not all that confident yet. Thank you to that video on the TPI results page for helping me to realize that the more confident I become, the more I will do what I believe!
So my main takeaways are: be patient (my life story, ps), plan and teach with intention, and have a little more understanding when I am talking about perspectives and methods with teachers! In the meantime, I’m going to go and apologize to my friend.
Oh and I took this survey too. Got 19/19. So you know, there’s that. (A warning: that link will take you to a quiz about the worst pop song in Canadian history. You’ve been warned.)
In “The Skillful Teacher”, Stephen Brookfield uses the metaphor of whitewater rafting to describe what teaching is like; still and turbulent, reflective and full of action.
I found this incredibly interesting, due to my personal experience with whitewater rafting. It happened about 10 years ago. Other important information: I learned how to swim… last year.
So I was up in Lytton with a group of friends, camping and going rafting. I don’t think any of them knew that I couldn’t swim. None of the guides asked. I kept my mouth shut and went along with everything.
This story does not get as exciting as you would think; I did not fall in, I did not have to be rescued, I did not drown. But, I learned a lot.
When the going gets rough, keep paddling. You will get through it.
If you feel yourself getting bounced out of the raft (which did happen), find a lifeline and grab it.
When it is calm, reflect and prepare – and enjoy it! Look for wildlife, laugh with your raftmates, learn from the guide by asking questions!
Is this like teaching? I think so. Turbulence is where we learn; without challenge there is no growth.
And just like teaching – I was able to ‘wing it’ and survive, but I would feel a lot more confident now, because I can swim. If I were to get dumped out of the raft, I could fall back on my training to keep me afloat until I could get back in the boat. This is the piece that really got me; in order to be a skilled practitioner, it is key that I continue to seek out learning and training to be better prepared when turbulence hits.
The Skillful Teacher
I fully intended to take PIDP 3260 (Professional Practice) as my last course for the program. It just made sense as a wrap up for everything that I had learned, and how I would be reflectively and consciously applying it. Due to a scheduling issue, I’m taking it a semester(ish) early, and I’ve realized this morning that I wasn’t feeling totally prepared.
So I decided to have a little think about what this course could mean to me, and why it would be important (aka, finding relevancy). It didn’t take long,
I teach workshops on job search skills, including interviewing effectively. My favourite interview question is “what is your greatest weakness”. I love being asked it, I love preparing for it, and I love teaching people how to approach it. This question is asked for one purpose; to find out if a candidate is aware of their own imperfections, and has been willing and ready to do the work to improve. And every answer that I have to this question is one that does not fill me with shame about those imperfections, but with pride that I have had the courage to look at myself and say ‘I could be better’. Even when it is hard and hurts and is easier to blame someone else or run away, to instead stay and learn and grow – when I answer this question I sit a little taller because I know that I worked really hard to be better.
And I think that this is what this course will be about for me.